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What Is Tenure?

After over 20 years of teaching college English, the author loves to share tips, teaching plans, and information about the profession.

Does teacher tenure make better schools?

Does teacher tenure make better schools?

What Is Tenure?

Tenure is job security for teachers and professors. Teachers often get tenure after about 2-3 years of probation. Professors are granted tenure after about 7 years.

Before they get tenure, teachers and professors are on probation. They are regularly evaluated and can be dismissed from their job fairly easily. Once dismissed, they can usually not work for that school or university again and may have trouble getting another job. Once a teacher or professor has tenure, they cannot be dismissed easily and without due process.

History of Tenure

Tenure originated in Universities over 100 years ago as a way to protect professors from being fired for their political or personal views. In the 1930s, tenure began being given to public school teachers as a way to protect them from being fired by community members who disagreed with their grading, political or personal views. Teachers and professors feel that tenure gives them freedom to do their jobs better. Critics suggest that tenure prevents bad teachers and professors from getting fired.

What Is Tenure for Public School Teachers?

Tenure for public school teachers hired through the state (which includes K-12 and community college) means that the teacher has a permanent job and can't be fired without due cause, which usually means an extreme violation or a long series of documented problems that are not corrected after warnings. To get tenure, a public school or community college teacher has to go through a probationary period of 2-3 years and be evaluated to show they can teach effectively. During that time, they will often have to submit sample lessons, have mentor teachers and administrators come to evaluate them, and participate in self evaluations and mentoring. Usually, the principal of the school will do a final written evaluation of the teacher each year and will meet with the teacher to discuss their progress towards tenure.

Benefits of Tenure for Schools

Hiring new teachers is a time-consuming process for administration and other teachers, so generally schools try to work with new teachers to teach them in areas that they are weak, such as classroom discipline or teaching phonics, rather than firing them. Schools often provide additional training to probationary teachers or match them with an experienced teacher who can help them with lesson plans and give them advice. Generally, firing teachers who are poorly performing is the last option.

Benefits of Tenure for Teachers

First of all, tenure benefits teachers because it gives them greater job security. Since the system of tenure makes it hard to fire a teacher, it encourages school administration to give teachers the help they need to improve. Many school districts invest a considerable amount of resources in providing teacher workshops and other continuing educational activities to help teachers learn new skills. As a public school teacher for ten years, I sweated out my tenure evaluations but generally found that the process taught me many things that made my classroom work better. As a teacher mentor for other new instructors and education students, I was glad to have a formal way to work with new teachers and explain to them how to teach more effectively.

Advantages of Tenure for Parents

One part of the tenure process is that teachers are on probation for a time before they receive tenure and that can be a good thing. As a parent, I've experienced having my child in a classroom with a teacher who was not a terrible person, but was not a good teacher for our school and the kinds of children and families we had attending. I was glad to know that the principal was able to dismiss her at the end of her probationary year without having to go through a court battle and extensive paperwork. On the other hand, I'm glad that many of my children's teachers are able to work without having to worry about losing their job if they get an especially unruly class, or have a parent who is abusive towards them. Teachers who are secure in their jobs can spend their energy being more creative in the classroom.

Should professors get tenure?

Should professors get tenure?

What Is Professor Tenure?

Academic tenure for professors takes longer than it does for public school employees, generally about 7 years. Academic tenure is designed to give faculty members the freedom to concentrate on their research and teaching without having to worry that their political or personal beliefs will cause them to lose their job. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) created a formal declaration of tenure in 1919 and continues to promote tenure so that professors have job security and can't be dismissed unless there is cause and they are given due process.

How Do Professors Get Tenure?

"Tenure Track" positions at Universities and colleges in North America are prized positions, even though they are only the start of a 7-year probation process, which does not always result in being granted tenure.

During that seven-year period, tenure track Assistant Professors are evaluated annually to see if they have met their University's requirements for publishing, getting grants, being involved in conferences, and teaching effectively. Each year, the Assistant Professor prepares a folder of their work and has an evaluation, usually with their department chair or with all of the tenured faculty in the department. In year 5-6, the department makes a decision about whether to recommend tenure or not. The finally decision is usually made by upper administration and a group of specially chosen senior faculty members.

How Is the College Tenure Decision Made?

The process can vary at different colleges. In a typical situation, at the end of the 5th or 6th year of a tenure-track faculty member's appointment, the other tenured faculty in that department vote on whether or not they should be granted tenure. The department chairmanthen submits the decision to the administration of the school.

That decision is then usually reviewed by a University-appointed faculty tenure committee who then gives a recommendation to the administration for approval or denial of tenure. Usually, the administration of the University accepts the decision, but sometimes they do not. The person who receives tenure then is designated Associate Professor.

The reason the decision is made at the end of the 5th or 6th year is that it gives the faculty member time to find a new position while they continue working for that university. Even though that can be an uncomfortable year, it prevents the faculty member from being unemployed while they search for a new job, which is especially important since most faculty positions are posted to start in the fall semester.

History of University Tenure

DateHistory of Tenure


Board of Trustees of University could hire and fire professors. Generally, professors were not fired except for going against religious beliefs of College.


AAUP created formal principles of academic freedom and tenure. Suggested faculty be evaluated by other professors, tenure be a formal process, and employment be by contract.


Tenure begins to be offered to public school teachers, starting in Lousiana


AAUP suggests 7 years for tenure period. Urges tenured professors should not be dismissed without cause or due process. Universities begin to establish guidelines for research and teaching to get tenure.


Shortage of professors to teach GIs after WWII led more Universities to offer tenure. Tenured professors increase to 52%.


Anti-Vietnam War protests by professors leads some state legislatures to call for dismissal of tenure policies.


56% of professors are tenured or tenure track. Challeges to tenure policies of some Universities in courts caused tenure procedures to become more clearly defined as legal contracts.


46% of professors tenured or tenure track.


1994 study by The Chronicle of Higher Education found that about 50 tenured professors were dismissed yearly because of violation of contract, the downsizing of their department, or University financial hardship.


31% of professors tenured or tenure track. 48% of teaching instructors are part-time. To reduce costs and win the competition in research, many Universities hire non-tenured faculty to teach, and allow tenured faculty to concentrate on research.


Dr. Amy Bishop shot and killed fellow faculty members after losing tenure at the University of Alabama at Huntsville

Will Online Universities affect Professor Tenure?

Will Online Universities affect Professor Tenure?

What Happens When Professors Are Denied Tenure?

The person who has been denied tenure is given one final year to teach at that University while they look for another job. In most cases, Assistant Professors are denied tenure not because of poor teaching, but because they did not live up to the standards of research, publishing, and getting grants that are set by their University.

That is what has led to the phrase "publish or perish" and pushed many academics into doing somewhat more repetitive, quicker research projects rather than studies that take longer and may be riskier. Unfortunately, being denied tenure can be devastating and Assistant Professors who are denied tenure sometimes have a difficult time finding another job in academe. On the other hand, being denied tenure at a university with high research expectations might help some individuals realize that they would prefer to work at a college which requires more teaching and less research, or even at a community college.

Additionally, some professors who do not get tenure might be retained at that university as a lecturer. While most lecturers don't have the job security of a tenured position (they might be the first to be let go in the case of a downturn in enrollment), full-time lecturers often carry a lot of the administrative load at a university and that can make them too valuable to lose.

Non-Tenured Professors

Not all positions for teaching at a University or College give tenure. Many instructors at Universities are "Non-Tenure Track" and are hired by the semester or by the year to do teaching or research. Non-Tenure track professors are sometimes called Lecturers, Adjunct Professors or Research Professors.

Part-Time Lecturers or Adjuncts

Not all university teaching positions are full-time, and, in fact, many university classes are handled by part-time lecturers who are hired as needed by the semester. Having gone through the process of my husband getting tenure at a large private university, when it came time for me to make a career decision I opted to not put our family through the tenure process again and I wanted the flexibility to work only as many hours as I wanted. For over 20 years, I worked as a part-time, non-tenured professor at the same University. Now that my children are all adults, I work full time helping faculty members write grants. It is fairly common for universities to employ the spouses of tenured faculty members, as either part-time or full-time lecturers. Some of the people who work this sort of job are, like me, glad to have the flexibility of that position, but many wish they could have the security of a full-time job that has more than a semester or one-year contract.

Tenure Reform?

Critics of Public School Tenure Argue:

  • Tenure creates teachers who don't work as hard as they should.
  • Tenure makes it too hard to get rid of poorly performing teachers.
  • Protections of tenure are too strong.
  • Unions and education professionals should not have control over tenure. Parents and students should be able to evaluate.
  • Teacher pay and jobs should be tied to the performance of students.

Critics of Professor Tenure Argue:

  • Tenure causes too much of an emphasis on research and negatively impacts the education a university gives to students.
  • People in other businesses don't have permanent job security, so professors shouldn't have a lifetime employment guarantee either.
  • The tenure system is actually hurting people who want to teach at the university level since so many of them can't get a tenure-track job and are forced to take part-time positions with no job security.
  • Tenure does not actually promote academic freedom and independence of thought since people trying to get tenure have to do research approved by their colleagues.

What Do You Think about Tenure?

What is your opinion about tenure? Do you think the system is effective and necessary? Is there a better way to ensure teachers are protected and also make sure students have the best possible education?


Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 21, 2012:

mpropp--In my first career as a teacher, I taught at 4 different elementary schools and each time I moved, I had to start the tenure process over again. Generally, each district will take into account your years of teaching in order to place you in the salary schedule (or some of them anyway) but you start all over with tenure. That is usually true at college also. However, if one University wants a well-known or prolific researcher, they may offer to transfer their tenure or reduce the time needed to get it. Great question!

Melissa Propp from Minnesota on November 21, 2012:

I think you gave a very thorough explanation of tenure. I have a brother who is a high school teacher with tenure and I have a sister who is college professor with tenure, so I appreciated the differentiating of the two. I do have one question...If you get tenure in a public school and then relocate or take a job at another school, do you need to go through the tenure process again? Or does tenure follow you?

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 21, 2012:

Thanks for all the comments. Rfmoran--I was also wondering as I started this topic why tenure had been extended to public school teachers. As I read about the issue, I found out that teachers at that level faced problems with school boards or other administrators who didn't like the way they graded, or just didn't like them personally. PrairiePrincess has a wonderful hub about bullying in the workplace which describes how a person can be bullied out of a job. I don't think tenure completely protects against that, but I think it does help.

Russ Moran - The Write Stuff from Long Island, New York on November 21, 2012:

Excellent job of research and writing. You present both sides of the issue very well. I think tenure has been abused over the years. As you so well state, it was originally intended to give professors academic freedom. I'm not clear as to why an elementary or HS teacher should get tenure. See the excellent movie - Waiting for Superman to see the problems with tenure.

Larry Wall on November 20, 2012:

Tenure in public school systems because public schools are run by school boards which are political bodies. Board member X may object to the fact that tenured teacher Mrs. Z is a relative of a former opponent or belongs to a different political party--just pick a reason. Without tenure, a board member can usually gather the votes need to remove the teacher as a cost saving measure, make him or her teach a grade they do not like or relocate them to a school that significantly increases their travel time. It has to be remembered that public school boards and political bodies. Other state employees are protected by civil service rules. Teachers need tenure. A tenured teacher can be removed--the school board just has to prove its case.

kthix10 from IL on November 20, 2012:

Having been a tenured teacher in the past - I left due to a relocation I have seen the good and the bad, in IL it is 4 years before that time you can be let go without cause which allows most principals to weed out some bad ones.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 20, 2012:

Nice summary of the tenure system. I never was involved in this, having taught in private schools for most of my career, and at the middle school and high school levels. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I can see the pros and cons of it, and I don't lean in one direction or the other.